This article focuses on Ben Jonson’s use of the parasite as a strategy for both occupying and subverting systems of literary production. Drawing upon the critical theory of Michel Serres, I consider the parasite as a figure that introduces “noise” or “interference” into an otherwise orderly system in order to rewrite that system for personal advantage. By working both within and against the discourse of household “oeconomy”—a term that designates the early modern art of household management—the parasite enables Jonson to criticize patronage networks even as he participates in them. Specifically, I argue that Jonson’s incongruous appearance as a gluttonous parasite in “To Penshurst” works to reconfigure the social and natural hierarchies upon which the poem is structured in order to enable alternative social interactions aligned on a horizontal rather than vertical axis. This allows Jonson temporarily to level distinctions between poet and patron by displaying the fact that the patron, like the poet, participates in the abject sociality of the parasite.


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pp. 255-281
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